In the tent: Railroad relics |

In the tent: Railroad relics

Bob Ward
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – Last weekend, seeking to get as far from the July 4 weekend mayhem as possible, I took my kids to the upper Fryingpan Valley for a night of camping. We didn’t have much of a plan; I intended to drive beyond the pavement and just seek out someplace to stay. It was more about leaving the house and giving Mom a break than accomplishing anything.

Owing to this non-plan, we made a number of unscheduled stops – including one near Hell Gate, where Fryingpan Road (originally the Colorado Midland Railway route to Leadville) was blasted out of an outcrop of gray granite. Below this outcrop lies a steep boulder field, and near the bottom of the boulder field is the wreckage of an old train car and an automobile.

We gazed down on the rusty wreckage from several hundred feet above, and the kids’ eyes lit up. The train car, once a steel box likely used to haul ore, was nothing but a flattened heap, but nearby lay two rusty wheels connected by a thick axle, and this somehow seemed cooler, or more authentic, to the kids’ minds. The rusty, crumpled automobile, too, seemed to spark their interest, so I thought maybe we could search out these relics on foot at a later date.

The time came the next day, when the kids were uninterested in any of my other suggested activities. We had broken camp and were driving home when I decided to turn off on a dirt road up Ivanhoe Creek, below Hell Gate. We stopped at what looked like an opportune spot, and clambered up through willows, spruce and wildflowers to the bottom of the boulders.

Looking upward from below, we could only guess at the location of our trashed relics, but after some scrambling and hollering back and forth, we found them. Remarkably, the train car still bore the lettering “Colorado Midland” on the side; perched on a flat rock, the train axle made a perfect sitting spot for a photo. The nearby car, which must have taken its tumble some years after the train, still had its engine block and two spoked rims, just like the old-time cars the kids have seen in parades and movies.

It’s one thing to see these vehicles in a museum, polished and shiny, but it’s another to touch them, wracked and rusting, on a mountainside at 10,000 feet.

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